White Christmas Pie

I love vintage cookbooks and probably buy more of them than I should.  I recently found and purchased this vintage Betty Crocker cookbook: Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book published in 1950.

This cookbook was published as prosperity came to the USA.  There were a lot of cookbooks on the market, but this one became the leading cookbook.  The Chicago Sun Times described it as a “cookbook that has everything.”  Betty Crocker is, of course, a fictional person.  She is the iconic image of the General Mills Company, a US based food company.  Betty Crocker products can be found in the USA as well as markets worldwide.

Included in the cookbook is a recipe for White Christmas Pie.  It sounded just perfect for a Christmas dessert.  It is described as a  “pure white heavenly concoction”.  The original recipe uses uncooked beaten egg whites.  I adapted the recipe to use cream cheese and additional heavy whipping cream to replace the egg whites.  With cream cheese, whipping cream and sweetened coconut in the pie, I can state with confidence that it is a “pure white heavenly concoction”.

The pie is very easy to make and made even easier by using a store-bought pie crust.

White Christmas Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 pre-baked pie shell
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup boiling water
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond flavoring
1 cup sweetened coconut

In a small bowl sprinkle the envelope of unflavored gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water.  Let stand for one minute.  Add 1/4 cup boiling water, stirring constantly until granules are completely dissolved.  Set aside while preparing the filling.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese until smooth and light.  Add a little bit of the cream, and beat to loosen.  Beat in the remaining cream and sugar, a little at a time, until the mixture almost holds stiff peaks, occasionally scraping the bottom of the bowl.  Beat in the salt, vanilla and almond flavorings. Add the gelatin to the whipped cream mixture.  Continue to beat until stiff.  Fold in the cup of coconut.

Spoon the filling in the prepared pie crust and spread to fill the corners.  Chill for several hours.  If desired, pie can be garnished with additional whipped cream and coconut.  

1.  I used the wire whip attachment on my KitchenAid stand mixer to beat the cream cheese and whipped cream mixture.
2.  I used a Wilton Star 2D tip to pipe whipped cream on the top of the pie and served the pie with a raspberry sauce.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a happy and safe New Year.


Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints

I like to try a new cookie recipe every year for Christmas.  The new cookie I baked up this year is a Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprint cookie. These thumbprint cookies are rich and buttery.  You can taste the buttery flavor with each bite. Then, there is the raspberry jam adding a hint of a fruity sweetness to the cookie.

These thumbprint cookies do not have any eggs or any kind of leavening agent in them.  I didn’t know until I did some research that shortbread consists of three basic ingredients: flour, butter, and sugar.  Also, shortbread is a traditional Scottish baked good.

The recipe calls for a glaze to be drizzled over the cookies.  The glaze is optional, and I left it out because  of the extra sweetness.  See the original recipe at Land O Lakes that includes the directions for the glaze.

We had our first snowfall today, making for some pretty Christmas scenery, and a good day to be baking Christmas cookies.

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints

  • Difficulty: easy
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1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam

Combine butter, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract in a bowl.  Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy.  Add flour, beat at low speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed.  (Mixture will be crumbly at first but it will come together.)  Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour or until firm.

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls.  Place 2 inches apart onto ungreaseed cookie sheets.  Make indentation in center of each cookie with thumb (edges may crack slightly).  Fill each indentation with about 1/4  teaspoon jam.

Bake 12-14 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.  Let stand 1 minutes on cookie sheets; remove to cooling rack.  Cool completely.  Makes approximately 36 cookies.  

1.  It only took the cookies I baked 12 minutes to reach a light brown color.  Recommend checking after 12 minutes to prevent over baking.
2.  To prevent the cookies from spreading during baking, refrigerate the prepared cookies before baking (for about 15 minutes).
2.  Store cookies covered at room temperature for 3 days or cookies can be frozen.


French Apple Cake

Last weekend, we drove to Traverse City, Michigan to check out the fall foliage.  Traverse City is a beautiful city to visit at any time but especially so in the fall.  The area has so much natural beauty that it is easy to get the feeling that you really are “up north”.

Traverse City claims that it is the Cherry Capital of the world, and it very well could be true.  The area does produce around 75% of America’s tart cherries.  The cherries were long gone on our visit but local apples were still available.  I found some local Honeycrisp apples from a farm stand on the Old Mission Peninsula Road.

We took a drive along this very scenic route.  It is a beautiful drive no matter what time of the year.  We stopped at a scenic overlook so I could take some pictures. We did see some color, but the colors had not peaked yet.  It was still a beautiful view.  There are several wineries along this road that beckon you to stop and sample local wines.  We saw a lot of grapes still on the vine.

At the end of Old Mission Peninsula Road is the very picturesque Mission Point Lighthouse.  The lighthouse was built in 1870 and is no longer in operation.  However, it is open for tours and provides a great photo opt for visitors.

Downtown Traverse City has a lot of good shopping.  One of my favorite places to shop is the Cherry Republic.  It is the place to go for all things cherry.  They sell everything from cherry jams to your favorite cherry wine.  All of their items are beautifully displayed.  Even if you don’t buy anything, it is a fun place to just look around.

I wanted to make something special with the apples I bought in Traverse City.  My first thought was an apple pie.  But after some research on the web, I found a beautiful French Apple Cake recipe that was perfect for my apples.

It is a recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Once Upon a Chef.  She has great recipes and beautiful pictures detailing the preparation of each recipe.  Please visit her web site to read the inspiration behind her French Apple Cake recipe.  The only change I made was to use brandy instead of rum because that is what I had.

This is a moist and buttery cake with a slight crunch and delicate flavor of the sweet apples.  I like how the top of the cake has a crispy taste from the sugar sprinkled on top.

French Apple Cake

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brandy (original recipe calls for dark rum)
2 baking apples, peeled, cored and cut into small cubes (I used Honeycrisp)
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Confectioner’s sugar (optional) for decorating the cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray a 9-inch springform cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Set aside.

With a mixer, cream the butter and sugar until until it is light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Add one egg at a time beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Add in the vanilla and brandy and beat till combined.  If the mixture looks grainy that is ok.  Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.

Use a rubber spatula to fold the chopped apples into the batter mixture.

Spoon the batter into the prepared springform cake pan and smooth the top.  Sprinkle the top evenly with the 1 tablespoon of sugar.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack.  Let the cake cool until just warm.  Carefully run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and then remove the side of the springform cake pan.  With a fine sieve, sprinkle with the Confectioner’s sugar, if using.

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.  

 A regular 9 inch cake pan can be used for this recipe.


Italian Vegetable Soup

I think we all have our favorite comfort food.  Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and grilled cheese sandwiches are quite often considered comfort foods.  Also, it could be a favorite cake, pie, or cookie.

Often times when we eat our favorite comfort food, it takes us back to a happier time or perhaps a reminder of a loved one.

The Huffington Post has a list of what they consider to be the top 25 comfort foods.  The number one being the grilled cheese sandwich.  Check out the complete list here to see if your favorite comfort food is listed.

One of my favorites is any kind of vegetable soup with a tomato base.  I can remember eating vegetable soup when I was kid, and it was always made with vegetables and tomatoes from my Mom’s garden.

This recipe is so easy to make and chances are you will have all of the ingredients on hand.  It is a hearty soup and will be welcomed for lunch or dinner.

Serve the soup with a favorite bread or with sweet Honey Muffins as I do. Recipe for the Honey Muffins can be found here.

Italian Vegetable Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 1/2 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups water
1 10.5 oz can beef broth
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with juices
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz can corn, drained
Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch Oven and then add the onion.  Sauté the onions until just barely tender.  Add the carrots and celery and stir to combine, cooking for an additional minute.  Turn off the heat, and add all of the spices and mix to combine with the vegetables.  Add the water, beef broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, kidney beans and the corn.  Bring the soup to a boil, and then immediately turn down to a very low simmer.  Continue to simmer the soup uncovered for about 45 minutes or until the carrots are tender.

Serve the soup while hot.  

1.  Recipe makes a lot of soup but is great for leftovers.
2.  Adapted from allrecipes.com.


Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes are a crispy and tangy side dish usually found in the Southern part of the USA.  This iconic Southern dish was made popular by the book and subsequent movie, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

The novel, written by Fannie Flagg, was published in 1987 and released as a movie in 1991.  I can recommend the book and suggest reading it before watching the movie.  If you don’t want to buy the book or movie, check out your local library.  My library has the book (handover and digital) and the movie on DVD for loan.

The novel is a tale of the South with two time periods, the Great Depression and 1985.  The two time periods are brought together through the stories of the elderly Mrs. Threadgoode.

While the book does have a lot of folksy type Southern humor, there is a dark side to the novel.  Segregation, racial prejudice, threats from the scary and dangerous Ku klux klan, and domestic abuse are just some of the happenings in the book.  Plus, there are the two tragic accidents involving the train that runs through Whistle Stop.

To offset some of the darkness, there is the love story between Idgie and Ruth and the friendship between Ninny Threadgoode and Evelyn Couch.

And then, we have Sipsey and Big George.  Sipsey is the wonderful African American Southern cook who fried up the green tomatoes at the cafe; and Big George is her son who did all the barbecuing.  Sipsey’s food is legendary.  She and Big George are household help but at the same time part of the family, and do what is necessary to protect Ruth and her baby.

There are a lot of references to all the good Southern food that is cooked up at the cafe.  You will definitely get hungry reading the book.  This is one of my favorite quotes from the book, as spoken by Ninny:  “Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe.”

There are several recipes given at the end of the book, including the one for Fried Green Tomatoes.  It is actually a simple recipe:  “green tomatoes, salt and pepper, corn meal,  and bacon fat.  The seasoned tomatoes are dipped in the corn meal and then fried in the bacon fat”.  I haven’t made the tomatoes according to Sipsey’s recipe but if fried in bacon fat must be good.

We have a new restaurant in East Grand Rapids, the Carolina Low Country Kitchen that lives up to its name.  Not only does it serve shrimp and grits but fried green tomatoes are on the menu.  The tomatoes are served as an appetizer with a remoulade type sauce.  They are absolutely delicious and presented beautifully.  Below is a picture I took of them the last time we were there.

Now, I sometimes serve the tomatoes I make with a remoulade sauce.  Here is the recipe I use.

Green tomatoes are simply unripe red tomatoes.  I have found them at farmers markets and on occasion at my local grocery store.  Green tomatoes will be very firm to the touch.  Try to use them as soon as you can because they will start to ripen rather quickly.  Be aware that some Heirloom tomatoes are green when ripe, so don’t mistake the two.

Fried Green Tomatoes

  • Servings: 2-3
  • Difficulty: easy
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1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
2 cups breadcrumbs (1 cup Panko and 1 cup regular breadcrumbs)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 green tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 1 pound)
vegetable oil for frying
Fresh basil, optional

Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour with the salt and pepper.  Beat egg and milk in a shallow bowl.  In another bowl, combine all the breadcrumbs with the parmesan cheese.

Dip each tomato slice into the flour and then dip into the egg  and milk mixture, letting any excess drip back into the bowl.  Then, coat in the Panko bread crumb mixture.  Place tomato slices on a prepared baking sheet.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat until oil begins to shimmer.  Fry the tomatoes in batches until golden and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side.  Drain on a baking tray lined with paper towels.  Garnish with basil, if desired.  Best served while hot.

The tomatoes can be served with a remoulade sauce or with Ranch dressing, if desired.


Cream of Tomato Soup

There are still a lot of beautiful tomatoes available at the Farmers Market.  Fortunately, there are many wonderful ways to eat and cook with tomatoes.  One of my favorite ways is to make soup.  I always make several batches of cream of tomato soup during the season.  It just happens to be my favorite soup.

I don’t really care for Campbell’s Tomato Soup, although their Tomato Bisque is fairly good.  Panera Bread, a USA restaurant chain, has an excellent tomato soup; their Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup.  But the best is obviously homemade with fresh, ripe tomatoes.

The Campbell Soup Company came out with the condensed tomato soup in 1897.  Although the canned variety made the soup very popular, the first recipe is credited to Maria Parloa in her 1872 cookbook The Appledore Cook Book.

Miss Parloa was a culinary pioneer who authored seven cookbooks and established two cooking schools.  She was also the first to promote cooking brands, such as Baker’s Chocolate.  Miss Parloa also contributed to The Ladies Home Journal magazine and was also part owner.  For more information on this remarkable woman, see this article at the Bethel Public Library.  She left the town of Bethel, CT $2,000 which they used to establish the library.

The above referenced article calls her recipe Tomato Chowder.  However, in her cookbook, it is titled Tomato Soup.  A free digital copy of the cookbook is available from Archive.org.  There are several download options available.

This recipe calls for the tomatoes to be peeled.  I have a great vegetable peeler that actually peels tomatoes.  It is the Oxo Good Grips Serrated Peeler that I purchased from Amazon for $8.99.

You can see in my photo below that it does a good job.

This recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker.  See the original recipe for directions on peeling tomatoes using the boiling method.

Serve this delicious creamy soup with a grilled cheese sandwich and you will be in comfort food heaven.

Cream of Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 4 cups chopped)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

croutons for serving (optional)

In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Cook onion in the oil for 3 to 5 minutes until translucent, stirring frequently.  Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper,  basil, and chicken or vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15-25  minutes or until tomatoes are softened and cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and butter.

Carefully blend the soup with an immersion blender until desired smoothness.  I like mine slightly chunky.  If desired, serve soup with croutons.  

1.  A blender or food processor can also be used to blend the soup.
2.  I slice the very top of the tomato off in order to get rid of the stem part and then discard it.
3.  I like to use Amore Tomato Paste which comes in a 4 ounce stay-fresh tube and allows you to use the right amount for your recipes.  After opening, it stores in the fridge and has a long shelf life.

Cheesy Zucchini Bites

I think zucchini may be the most popular vegetable to grow here in the USA.  I have lived in two different locations where I had room to have vegetable gardens and zucchini was always included as part of my garden.  I always got excited when I saw the first golden blossoms.

Photo credit hgtv.com.

Although early zucchini plants were native to the Americas, it was the European colonists who brought them to Europe.  Then, in the early 20th century zucchini found its way back to North American, by way of Italian immigrants.  Zucchini is the Italian plural diminutive word for squash, “zucca”.  It is also known as “courgette” which is the French word for this vegetable.  For more facts about Zucchini, see this interesting article from Rutgers Cooperative Extension on the history, growing, preparation, and recipes for this wonderful plant.

Unless someone gives you a sack of really large zucchini, remember that biggest is not always the best.  The most flavorful zucchini is the small to medium-sized.

If you have been blessed with an abundance of zucchini, these Cheesy Zucchini Bites are a good way to use up some of them.

They can be served as an appetizer or as a side dish.  They are crunchy, cheesy and bite-size, with the sweet taste of the zucchini shining through.

Cheesy Zucchini Bites

  • Difficulty: easy
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2 medium zucchini, grated on large holes of a box grater and squeezed of excess liquid
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray a mini muffin pan with a nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the grated zucchini in a colander over the sink and let the zucchini sit for about 5 minutes before squeezing out the excess liquid.  Transfer zucchini to a large mixing bowl.  Add breadcrumbs, cheddar and parmesan cheese, eggs, chopped onion, salt, pepper and onion powder.  Mix the ingredients together until fully combined.  Use a tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop to spoon the mixture into the wells of the mini muffin pan, about a tablespoon each.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack to finish cooling.

Makes 24-30  mini-bites.  

1.  After grating and pressing water out of the two medium sized zucchini, I had 2 cups of grated zucchini.
2.  In place of a mini muffin pan, the Bites can be baked on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3.  Leftovers can be reheated in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

You know summer is almost over when the Bee Balm starts to fade.  But the butterflies are still around and don’t seem to mind.